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Italy and Libyan tribes agree on deal to curb migrant flow

Image of migrants and refugees in Europe [File photo]
Image of migrants and refugees in Europe [File photo]

The Italian government has agreed to cooperate with dozens of rival tribes to improve the security situation in Libya and curb the flow of migrants attempting to reach Europe.

According to Italy’s interior ministry, 60 tribal leaders, mostly from the Tuareg in the southwest of the country, the Toubou of the southeast, and the Arab tribe of Awlad Suleiman, have reached a 12-point agreement following 72 hours of private talks in Rome.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper of the meeting:

A Libyan border patrol unit will become operational to monitor Libya’s southern border of 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles).” He added, “Securing Libya’s southern border means securing Europe’s southern border.

Southern Libya has become an important transit centre for the smuggling of people, drugs and weapons. Since the ousting of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, tribal and ethnic forces have been fighting for control of the region.

While the Tuareg tribes control the border with southern Algeria, the Toubou operate along the borders with Chad and Sudan.

The Arab tribes which regularly clash with the Toubou have loyalties to both the authorities in western Libya and the rival administration in the east.

Prime Minister and head of the Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sarraj has struggled to impose the government’s authority or gain its legitimacy largely due to the warring parties.

Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of Libya’s national unity government.

Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of Libya’s National Unity Government [File photo]

The deal initiated by Italy is the latest in a series that European states have brokered to reduce the mass migration flows from Libya. The accord aims to combat: “an economy based on illicit drugs, which causes hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean; thousands of desperate people looking for a better life; a populist push (in Europe); and a jihadist threat in the desert,” Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Around 24,200 people have been rescued from the Mediterranean and registered at Italian ports this year, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

Read: More than 200 feared dead off the coast of Libya

As part of an agreement with the European Union, around 90 members of the Libyan coastguard are currently being trained in Italy in preparation for the return of 10 coastguard boats to Libya which were seized in 2011. They are expected to become operational by the end of April or May 2017.

Last month, interior ministers from several EU and North African countries signed an agreement with the Government of National Accord to stem the flow of migrants. The agreement included; funding, coastguard training and the provision of vital equipment for Libya to adequately deal with the problem.

Italy has become increasingly active in Libyan affairs, calling for aid to help with the migrant crisis and curbing Russia’s growing involvement in the country following its support of Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter.

The stabilisation of Libya is one of the top priorities of Italian foreign policy through cooperation with the UN, the EU and other major partners, such as the UK and US. Italy has also expressed it willingness to engage with other actors like Russia in order to achieve stability in the North African country.

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